Schooled Reporting on education

Not so crazy anymore

Education | New survey shows growing support for school choice initiatives
by Leigh Jones
Posted 8/22/18, 03:48 pm

The drumbeat of opposition to school choice, relentless since President Donald Trump took office, hasn’t worn down Americans’ support for education alternatives.

According to the annual Education Next public opinion survey released Tuesday, a majority of respondents support the most controversial choice option: vouchers. Broadly speaking, school vouchers allow parents to use taxpayer funds to pay for private schools. Programs vary from state to state, but 54 percent of survey respondents said they supported “wider choice” in the form of vouchers. That’s a whopping 9 percentage point increase over last year. Outright opposition to vouchers fell from 37 percent last year to 31 percent this year.

Public school backers, especially teachers unions, vilified Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her longtime support for both voucher programs and charter schools. They labeled her an extremist, but it turns out her views are pretty mainstream. Education policy analyst Rick Hess with the American Enterprise Institute calls that fact the survey’s “most noteworthy takeaway.”

“While the press has imbued the Obama administration’s educational record with a cool, righteous glamour, it turns out—on a range of hot-button issues—that the public is far closer to DeVos than to Team Obama,” Hess wrote Tuesday in Forbes, noting the public’s stance may matter “a great deal” in coming education policy debates.

Not only did survey respondents voice support for vouchers, but they also liked to make them available for all families in all circumstances. Only a few states have universal voucher programs. Most only offer vouchers to students from low-income families or those stuck in failing schools. Only 43 percent of survey respondents support income-based vouchers, the same level shown in last year’s survey.

Charter schools also fared well in the survey. After a drop in support last year, perhaps driven by the derision heaped on DeVos, support for charters rose 5 percentage points to 44 percent. Most of that increase came from Republicans. Democrats continue to frown on charters, although even former President Barack Obama came around to supporting them before he left office.

School choice advocates immediately began using the survey results as a rallying cry for policy changes. John Schilling, president of the American Federation for Children, said the survey highlighted a reality lawmakers can no longer ignore: “We urge policymakers at the state and federal levels to take note of this strong support and to take action to give all families the freedom to choose the best K-12 education for their children.”

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the survey results reinforce calls for parents to have more control over their students’ classroom experience: “Above all else, parents care that their child has access to an excellent school, and as education advocates it is our job to ensure that wish becomes a reality.”

The Education Next survey touched on several other topics that have spawned headlines during the last six months: teacher pay and school discipline. Support for teacher pay raises jumped this year after educators in several states walked off the job to demand higher paychecks. Not surprisingly, the level of support for raises wanes when people actually find out how much teachers in their state make. When asked generally if teachers deserved more money, 67 percent said yes. After getting the salary details, only 49 percent backed raises.

On school discipline, only 27 percent of respondents said they favored an Obama-era federal policy that aims to reduce racial disparities by preventing schools from expelling or suspending minority students at higher rates than their white classmates. About half of respondents, 49 percent, opposed the initiative. The Trump administration said it would consider rescinding the directive but hasn’t yet made the change.

Facebook/School District 27J Facebook/School District 27J Students arrive for the first day of classes at an elementary school in Colorado’s District 27J.

Short school week

More than half of Colorado’s school districts are starting this year with a four-day week. Most of the districts already using the reduced schedule serve rural communities. But last week, one of the state’s largest urban districts announced it also would make the switch.

District 27J, northwest of Denver, serves 18,000 students. Superintendent Chris Fielder didn’t bother trying to spin the move as a benefit for students: It’s all about the bottom line. “We anticipate about $1 million in savings,” he said.

Taxpayers previously rejected six attempts by district officials to raise money through bond referendums. In announcing the shorter week, officials said they could no longer “be expected to do more with less financial resources.” Families, evidently, are expected to do more with less as they scramble to find child care and the money to pay for it. The district will offer to babysit for $30 a day, but that’s still $120 a month many families probably don’t have lying around.

Dale Chu at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute noted that no evidence supports improved educational outcomes for students who have a four-day school week: “As with legalized marijuana [in Colorado], the enduring effects of the four-day week remain unclear, and getting either genie back into its respective bottle will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.” —L.J.

Facebook/NYU Langone Health Facebook/NYU Langone Health The NYU School of Medicine graduation in 2013

Free for all

New York University announced last week it will become the first medical school to go tuition free. It will waive the $55,000 tuition for all 93 incoming medical students, as well as 350 students already seeking a Doctor of Medicine degree. The move is designed to encourage students to choose fields like primary care, which are considered less appealing because they don’t pay as much. Many doctors finish their training with a six-figure student loan debt. But NYU students won’t graduate competely debt-free: They still have to cover about $29,000 in living expenses. —L.J.

Holding fraternities accountable

Parents of a Louisiana State University student who died last year of alcohol poisoning are suing the school, Phi Delta Theta, and four students who participated in the fraternity pledge hazing ritual. Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver are seeking $25 million in damages. The suit cites “deliberate indifference” by LSU administrators toward the hazing incident. Maxwell Gruver’s death led to a brief suspension of Greek activities on campus. Ten fraternity members face criminal charges stemming from the incident. —L.J.

Big spenders

You might be a parent if … your wallet feels a little thin this month. According to the National Retail Federation, families on average spent (or will spend) $684.79 getting their kiddos ready to go back to school. Parents with college students fared much worse—$942.17. Overall, retailers expect Americans to spend $82.8 billion on back-to-school shopping. Ouch. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is the news editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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  • CJ
    Posted: Wed, 08/22/2018 05:55 pm

    Frat article: "deliberate indifference" to hazing among LSU administrators, should read "deliberate indifference" among LSU administrators to hazing... unless, of course, the administrators are actually doing the hazing. 

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Thu, 08/23/2018 01:08 pm

    You make a good point. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. We’ve edited the sentence to clarify.

  • JerryM
    Posted: Sun, 08/26/2018 07:29 pm

    One wonders how the rise in acceptance of school choice is related to the LGBT agenda push in public schools.